How do I even start a story that is so hard to tell? Even now, it’s so difficult to admit that it happened to me.
Well, let’s start with the simple truth: In my freshman spring semester of college, January 2011, I became anorexic. Yes, a man becoming anorexic—it happens.
The previous fall, my first semester, was amazing. I was engaged, and I brought my fiancé to school with me. I also made tons of new friends, including two of my best friends. However, by December I had gained a lot of weight. They call it the “freshman 15,” but mine was probably a little more.
Many people in my family have struggled with gaining weight, and a lot of them have gone on and off diets. At some point, someone in my family began telling me that it was my destiny to be “fat” like the rest of them. This had really messed with my head, and I wanted more than anything to fight this destiny.
So, with the new year in January 2011, I started with good intentions of diet and exercise. The exercise was really limited, and the diet was the idea of eating no sugar whatsoever. However, I soon found out that almost everything had sugar. From there, it was a slippery slope. I figured out how to feel full while still eating very little. I skipped meals all the time and became extremely irritable. My friends tried to tell me what I was doing was unhealthy, but in my mind everything seemed OK because I was losing weight. The saddest part is that at some point I realized what was happening—and I chose to continue down the same path anyway. I chose to ignore those closest to me, who were only trying to help.
In the summer of 2011, I married my best friend—but I carried this disorder with me into the first part of our marriage. I was extremely skinny for our wedding, having lost close to 30 pounds since January. I barely ate at our reception and remember only having one bite of cake. By the end of December, I had lost 50 pounds and was strangely proud of my “progress.” Yet, when I looked in the mirror, I still wasn’t the “skinny guy” I imagined I could be.
In hard times, there is always a point where it seems like there is no hope—but that is when hope is just around the corner. You just have to make the first step. For me, my solution, help, and ultimate freedom stemmed from my personal faith. God reminded me that I was fearfully and wonderfully made and helped me as I began to re-pattern my thought life.
Whether men choose to realize it or not, there is a pressure in society for them to look a certain way. Yes, the stereotypes say it’s a women’s issue, but self-image and eating disorders are everywhere and are not gender-specific. Just as women are told to have a perfect, Barbie-like appearance, men are told they need to be fit, strong, lean, and have a six-pack. There are ads of buff shirtless men everywhere, countless commercials for diet pills, and voices in our own lives that make us feel like our appearance is not enough. These pressures take their toll; in fact, it’s estimated that 10 million men in the United States alone will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder during their lifetime. When these pressures overcame me, I ended up developing anorexia, but other guys may choose the path of excessive exercise and a diet of only protein shakes. Both are dangerous. (There are a number of other ways disordered eating and exercise may manifest in a man’s routine, and NEDA has some resources to identify them here.)
I wouldn’t say I am 100 percent cured today, because it is still a struggle. There are times that I slip into old patterns of thought, like, “You shouldn’t eat lunch, because you are gaining weight.” You see, anorexia isn’t just a sickness of not eating; it’s much worse. It’s a sickness that invades your mind, and no matter how hard you try, you look in the mirror at the end of the day and feel disgusted by what you see. In these moments, I have to stop and remind myself of the truth: Male or female, the pressures of this world don’t define us. It’s possible to create a healthy balance of a good diet and a regular exercise plan—but striving for something beyond reach is never the answer.
If you are currently having struggles with your self-image, I want to encourage you to seek help. Speak with someone about your problem or look up resources online. I know it may be hard to reach out—but just remember that hope is around the corner. There is help, and there are people who care about you. I promise.